Aside from intellectual property attorneys, who really knows where to get good movie ideas?
Julie & Julia is writer-director Nora Ephron’s film of Julie Powell’s memoir, originally a blog, of the year Powell devoted to making every recipe in Julia Child’s famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Starring Amy Adams as Powell and Meryl Streep as Child, it is reportedly the first wide-release movie to result from the good ol’ cookbook-blog-memoir combo.
“Based on two true stories,” says the tagline — cutely but maybe also nervously, as if that’s some sort of legal disclaimer, or at least a sheepish admission of fear that neither Powell’s memoir, also called Julie & Julia, nor Child’s memoir, My Life in France, would be enough of a bankable property on its own. Ephron has fused their structures sturdily, if indelicately, and the movie is a peppy helix of two women’s analogous epicurean awakenings: Julia Child’s in Paris in the middle of the last century and Julie Powell’s in New York a few years ago.
Which do you suppose is more interesting to watch? Streep delivers the fond, fun, nuanced impersonation one would hope for, with notable support from Stanley Tucci as Julia’s straight man and graciously loyal husband Paul. The Streep-Tucci chemistry, honed in The Devil Wears Prada, opens here into a tender portrait of a marriage — or, well, at least a sweet sketch of one. Adams’ less commanding Julie, meanwhile, has affable everyguy Chris Messina for a husband, who looks up from stuffing his face just long enough to say, encouragingly, “Julia Child wasn’t always Julia Child,” or to share a moment of bonding over Dan Aykroyd’s classic Child-spoofing “I’ve cut the dickens out of my finger!” sketch on Saturday Night Live.
Adams’ disadvantages aren’t her fault. It’s not just that Streep outplays her (for a better balance, see Doubt); it’s that Ephron obstructs her. Perhaps to affect the air of a European matriarch diluting table wine and serving it to her unprepared children, Ephron has watered the material down. Fans of Powell’s book may be disappointed by Julie & Julia’s mainstream safety, by the absence of quotations from True Romance and talk of how “the reason people despise liver is that to eat it you must submit to it — just like you must submit to a really stratospheric fuck.” Instead, Adams’ Julie gets one mincing moment of self-doubt when confronted with the possibility that Child might have read her blog and found it distasteful. “Do you think it’s because I use the F-word every so often?” she says. Tee hee.
Wholesomeness is appetizing, sure, but not if it’s just another artificial flavor. Otherwise, Julie & Julia goes down like comfort food — and goes to show that potential entertainment properties are lurking everywhere. If this film succeeds, it might inaugurate a whole new cinematic subgenre of movies dramatizing the doing of things described in all sorts of instructional books.